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www.unal.edu.co/icn/publicaciones/caldasia.htm Frausin et
Caldasia 30(2):315-323. al.


Semillas usadas en artesanías por una población indígena
Emberá-Katío desplazada por la violencia en Colombia
Universidade Federal do Amazonas, Manaus, AM, Brazil. ginafrausin@ufam.edu.br

Herbario HUAZ, Grupo de Investigación en Botánica, Universidad de la Amazonía, Florencia,
Caquetá, Colombia. etrujillot@uniamazonia.edu.co

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Haworth Hall, 1200 Sunnyside Avenue,
University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-7523, USA. victorgonzab@gmail.com

The sale of handicrafts embellished with seeds is an important source of income
for a displaced indigenous Emberá-Katío group that lives in the city of Florencia
(Departamento of Caquetá, Colombia). We provide a list of the 34 plant species (23
genera in 10 families) used in handicrafts, as well as information on where and how
the are obtained. Seeds of native legumes (family Fabaceae) are the main material
used. Most manufactured items have seeds of Ormosia nobilis (Fabaceae), Canna
edulis (Cannaceae), and Sapindus saponaria (Sapindaceae). About half of the plant
species used by the Emberá-Katío are perennial trees. Except for the seeds of Coix
lacryma-jobi (Poaceae) and Ormosia sp., which are obtained from other local
indigenous groups such as the Koreguajes and Uitotos, all seeds are collected from
small patches of secondary forest near or within the city. Because most plants used
are native and widely distributed in the Neotropical region, we suggest that, despite
cultural transformation, at least some cultural knowledge about native plants is still
maintained, and we speculate that other Emberá groups might use the same or similar
plant species. We also provide the Spanish and Emberá names of the plants used in
the handicrafts.

Key words. Amazonia, ethnobotany, Fabaceae.

La venta de artesanías adornadas con semillas es una fuente importante de dinero
para un grupo indígena Emberá-Katío desplazado que vive en la ciudad de
Florencia (Departamento del Caquetá, Colombia). Presentamos una lista de las
34 especies de plantas (23 géneros en 10 familias) usadas en las artesanías, así
como información sobre dónde y cómo las obtienen. El principal material usado
son las semillas de legumbres nativas (familia Fabaceae). La mayoría de las
Seeds used in handicrafts

artesanías son hechas de semillas de Ormosia nobilis (Fabaceae), Canna edulis

(Cannaceae), y Sapindus saponaria (Sapindaceae). Casi la mitad de las especies de
plantas usadas por los Emberá-Katío son árboles. Las semillas son recolectadas en
pequeños parches de bosques secundarios cerca o dentro de la ciudad, excepto las
semillas de Coix lacryma-jobi (Poaceae) y Ormosia sp., las cuales son obtenidas
de otras tribus indígenas locales como los Koreguajes y Uitotos. Debido a que
la mayoría de las plantas son nativas y ampliamente distribuidas en la región
neotropical, sugerimos que a pesar de la transformación cultural, al menos parte
del conocimiento cultural todavía se mantiene, y especulamos que otros grupos
Emberá también podrían usar las mismas o especies similares de plantas. También
proporcionamos los nombres en Español y Emberá de las plantas usadas en las

Palabras clave. Amazonía, etnobotánica, Fabaceae.

INTRODUCTION at least 74 % of Colombian municipalities

have experienced expulsion or reception of
The sale of handicrafts embellished mainly displaced populations (e.g., Engel & Ibáñez
with seeds is an important source of income 2007). Colombian indigenous cultures are
for a displaced indigenous Emberá-Katío rapidly transforming and their ethnobotanical
group that lives in the city of Florencia knowledge might be lost forever.
(Departamento of Caquetá, Colombia).
Given the importance of seeds in handicrafts, The Emberá, which belong to the linguistic
the purpose of this paper is to provide family of Chocó, is one of 80 indigenous
information on the identity of these seeds, groups in Colombia (Arango & Sánchez
and where and how they obtain them. 2004). Accounting for ~ 11% (80.000
Our results are noteworthy given the people) of the total indigenous population
apparent lack of knowledge of the plants of the country, the Emberá are primarily
used in handicrafts, and the rate at which located in tropical lowland forests along
indigenous cultures are transforming (i.e., the pacific coast of the Chocó bioregion
experiencing cultural loss and adaptation which extends from southeastern Panama to
to new cultural environments). In general, northwestern Colombia (Arango & Sánchez
most ethnobotanical studies have focused on 2004). The Emberá members traditionally
those plant species used for food, medicine, have a semi-nomadic lifestyle as hunter-
rituals, and housing materials (e.g., Torres gatherers that include subsistence horticulture
de Araúz 1980, Vasco 1985, Harp 1994, and fishing (Herlihy 1995). Several Emberá
Kane 1995). Thus, information on the plants groups are named according to their place
used primarily in decorative crafts by the of origin. The Emberá-Katío of the present
Emberá is scarce. Also, during the past five study are those Emberá that inhabited or
decades, as many as two million Colombians inhabit the southern area of the modern-day
(~ 5% of the country population) have been Departmento of Cordoba and northwestern
forced to leave rural areas and migrate to area of Departamento of Antioquia. As a result
regional urban centers. Such migrations of violence, the members of Emberá-Katío
are the result of an ongoing armed conflict are now sparsely located throughout most of
among the guerrilla groups, paramilitary the western and southern areas of Colombia
forces, and the Colombian army. Today, (Fig. 1).
Frausin et al.

Figure 1. Distribution of the indigenous group Emberá-Katío in Colombia. Gray shaded area
represents the approximate original distribution of this group in the south of the modern-day
Departmento of Cordoba, and northwestern Departamento of Antioquia. Black dots indicate
the current distribution of this indigenous group in Colombia (Arango & Sánchez 2004).
Florencia city is indicated by a star.

The Colombian government relocated four and handicrafts made of seeds, fruits, and
Emberá-Katío populations 36 years ago natural fibers that are sold on the streets and
onto reservations near Florencia. About 80 festivals in Florencia and nearby towns for
people, including women and children, live $1–$4 USD.
permanently in Florencia in four houses and
an old school building in one of the poorest Given that the sale of handicrafts is the main
and most violent neighborhoods in the city source of income for this displaced Emberá-
(S. Pirango, pers. comm.). These Emberá- Katío group in Florencia, and the potential
Katío make their living by selling jewelry loss of cultural knowledge about native
Seeds used in handicrafts

plants, we address the following questions: of the seeds and fruits are deposited in HUAZ.
1) what plant species do the members of this V.H.G. analyzed the results and wrote the
indigenous group use to make handicrafts? 2) paper; all authors discussed and commented
are these plants native or introduced? and 3), on the manuscript.
where and how does this Emberá-Katío group
obtain these plants? RESULTS

We found that this Emberá-Katío group uses To manufacture handicrafts, the displaced
seeds of 34 plant species, most of them native Emberá-Katío members in Florencia use seeds
to the Neotropical region, and that legume from 34 plant species belonging to 23 genera
seeds (family Fabaceae) are the main material in 10 families (Table 1). Seeds of several
used. Seeds are gathered from patches of species of legumes (family Fabaceae) are the
secondary forest near or within the city, except main material used, including both native
for the seeds of two plant species which are species (e.g., Ormosia spp.) and introduced
traded or purchased from local indigenous species (e.g., Adenanthera pavonina). The
groups such as the Koreguajes and Uitotos. seeds used in handicrafts are dark brown,
We also provide the Spanish and Emberá black, or bright red in color. Seeds range from
names of these plants used in handicrafts. 5 to 18 mm in diameter, usually have a smooth
testa, and are ovoid, spherical, elongated,
MATERIALS AND METHODS triangular, or reniform in shape. Most
manufactured items (Table 1) have seeds of
This study was done in Florencia (Caquetá), Ormosia nobilis, Canna edulis, and Sapindus
a city of ~ 150.000 people located on the saponaria, occasionally mixed with seeds of
eastern slope of the Andes in southern Erythroxylon sp. and Hevea brasiliensis.
Colombia (1°37’7’’N, 75°37’04’W, 270
m, Fig. 1). Between August 2004 and May Six plant species (e.g., Abrus precatorius) used
2005, six adult women and nine adult men by the Emberá-Katío were introduced to the
(n = 15) from the displaced Emberá-Katío Neotropical region, and are now extensively
who agreed to participate and who also make cultivated in many parts of the world. About
and sell the handicrafts were interviewed. half of the plants species used by the Emberá-
The interviews were conducted by G.F. and Katío are perennial trees, while the remaining
an informed consent was obtained from species are shrubs and herbs (Table 1). Most
every individual interviewed. The interviews of the seeds are collected in small patches of
focused on questions about the indigenous secondary forest near or within Florencia.
names given to the plants, along with the However, seeds of Coix lacryma-jobi and
modes of collection and preservation of the Ormosia sp. are regularly traded or purchased
seeds. Plants were identified by E.T. and from other local indigenous groups such as
M.A.C. using the works of Gentry (1993) and the Koreguajes and Uitotos. Once collected,
Cárdenas et al. (2005), and by comparison of the seeds are washed with water and dried
museum specimens deposited at the Herbario under the sun. The seeds are then coated with
Enrique Forero G. (HUAZ), Universidad recycled automobile oil to prevent the attack
de la Amazonía, Florencia (Caquetá). The of insects and to make them shine. Holes for
taxonomic nomenclature follows that of the stringing are then drilled with an electric or
International Plant Names Index (2004). hand powered drill. Seeds are tied with either
Information on the plant species distribution natural threads (e.g., cumare, Astrocaryum
and toxicity were extracted from Gentry chambira Burret, Arecaceae, Agave sp.,
(1993) and Fern (1997). Voucher specimens Agavaceae) or synthetic fibers (e.g., nylon).
Frausin et al.

Table 1. Seeds used in handicraft manufactured by a displaced Emberá-Katío population in

Florencia (Caquetá, Colombia).
Names: Spanish common names are followed by indigenous names in parentheses. Origin: A = Asia, M = Madagascar,
N = Neotropics, U = North America. Form: H = herb, S = shrub, T = perennial tree. Toxicity: + = toxic seeds. Uses: B
= Bracelet, E = earrings, Hc = Hair clip, Me = Medicine (members of the Emberá-Katío claimed that infusions of these
seeds help to lower blood cholesterol, increase immune system response, and accelerate healing of stomach ulcers),
Mg = Magic (i.e., good luck and protection against spirits), Nl = Necklace, O = other decorative items, R = Rattle.

Plant species Names Origin Form Toxicity B E Hc Me Mg Nl O R
Attalea maripa (Aubl.) Mart. Guajo (Palma tá) N T X X X
Bactris gasipaes Kunth Chontaduro (Jea tá) N T X
Euterpe sp. Azai N T X X X

Chontilla (Memetá
Iriartea deltoidea Ruiz & Pav. N T X X

Oenocarpus bataua Mart. N T X
Arecaceae type 1 Palma T X
Thevetia peruviana (Pers.) K. Schum. N T + X X X
(Neta birgriei)
Protium sp. Anime (Tachipichi) N T X X
Protium amplum Cuatr. Anime (Anime tá) N T X X X

Achira, Cirilla de
Canna edulis Ker Gawl. N H X X X X

Erythroxylon sp. Coca N S X X X
Hevea brasiliensis (Willd. ex A.
Caucho (Cauchotá) N T + X X
Juss.) Müll. Arg.
Abrus sp. Peonía hembra A V + X

Peonía macho
Abrus precatorius L. A V + X X

Acacia sp. Acacia A T X

Adenanthera pavonina L. A T + X X X

Acacia roja
Delonix regia (Bojer ex Hook.) Raf. M T X X X

Erythrina fusca Lour. Búcaro N T X X

Seeds used in handicrafts

Plant species Names Origin Form Toxicity B E Hc Me Mg Nl O R

Erythrina poeppigiana (Walp.) O. F.

Chocho N T X X X

Enterolobium sp. Orejero N T X X X

Enterolobium cyclocarpum (Jacq.)

Orejero (Curunetá) N T X X X

Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit Carbonero blanco N T X X X

Ojo de buey
Mucuna sp.1 N V X X X X

Ojo de buey
Mucuna sp.2 N V X X X X

Ormosia nobilis Tul. Var.

Chocho N T X X X X X
santaremnensis (Ducke) Rudd.

Ormosia sp.1 Chocho N T X X X X

Ormosia sp.2 Chocho N T X X X X

Parkia insignis Kurz N T X X X

Guama grande
Parkia multijuga Benth N T X

Fabaceae type 1 Pongolo (Biuritá) N V X X X

Fabaceae type 2 N T X X X X


Lágrimas de san
Coix lacryma-jobi L. A H X X X X X
pedro (Sasamartá)


Chambimbe (Neta
Sapindus saponaria L. U T X X X X X

Pouteria sp. Caimo (Caimotá) N S X X X

Some seeds, such as those of Canna edulis, The handicrafts utilizing seeds are often
are perforated with a steel needle before accompanied by other materials. The seed
they harden, and seeds of Mucuna sp. and work is often elaborated with plastic beads,
Protium sp. are cut into two or more pieces locally known as chaquiras and purchased
(Figs. 2, 3). Handicrafts are made by members in local stores. The only fruit used is that
of both sexes and all ages in the group; of Macrolobium acaciifolium (Fabaceae).
however, women and children are mostly in Animal materials (Figs. 3, 4) are usually
charge of selling them on the streets. obtained from the Emberá-Katío reservations
Frausin et al.

near Florencia and include such items as:

domestic rabbit skin (Silvilagus spp.), beaks
of toucan birds (Piciformes: Ramphastidae,
Ramphastos spp. and Pteroglossus spp.),
feathers of macaws (Ara spp.) and parakeets
(Aratinga spp. and Amazona spp.), turtle
shells (Podocnemis expansa), and canine teeth
of ocelots (Felidae, Felix spp.) and monkeys
(Saimiri spp. and Cebus spp.).

Figure 4. Necklace made of Sapindus

Figure 2. Examples of handicrafts made saponaria (large black seeds) and Coix
by the Emberá-Katío group in Florencia. lacryma-jobi (whitish seeds). These two
Ornamented section of a wooden cane. Large seeds are separated by small plastic chaquira
seeds cut in pieces belong to an unidentified beads.
species of Fabaceae mixed with seeds of Coix
lacryma-jobi (whitish seeds) and Erythrina
poeppigiana (red seeds). DISCUSSION

Ethnobotanical studies on the plants used by

the Emberá, and perhaps as well as by other
indigenous people, have focused on those
plant species used for food, medicine, rituals,
and housing materials (e.g., Torres de Araúz
1980, Vasco 1985, Harp 1994, Kane 1995).
Except for the work of Runk (2001) on the
palm fibers used for basketry by a Panamanian
Emberá population, information on the plants
used in handicrafts by this indigenous group
is scarce. This lack of data precludes detailed
comparisons with other Emberá or other
Figure 3. Necklace made of Canna edulis indigenous groups. However, considering
(small black seeds) with macaw and parakeet the apparent cultural transformation of this
feathers. displaced indigenous population, 34 plant
species used in handicrafts alone seems to
be a relatively high number when compared
Seeds used in handicrafts

to a total of 44 species reported for medical However, seasonal shortage in seeds and fruits
purposes by a Panamanian Emberá group diminishes handicraft production according to
(Kane 1995). Seeds of only six introduced some informants. Thus, considering that the
species are used by the Emberá-Katío in sale of handicrafts is an important source of
Florencia (Table 1). Among them, Abrus income for the displaced Emberá-Katío, it is
precatorius and Adenanthera pavonina worth investigating the annual reproductive
have bright red seeds that might be highly phenology as well as the effect, if any, of
toxic when ingested raw (e.g., Rajaram & seed and fruit harvesting on the local plant
Janardhanan 1992). Both Asian species are populations.
now cultivated in many parts of the world, and
to our knowledge, there are no reported cases ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
of intoxication by these seeds in Florencia.
Because most plants (~ 76 %) used by the This paper is dedicated to the Emberá-
displaced Emberá-Katío group are native and Katío of Florencia; we would not have
widely distributed in the Neotropical region, we done this work without their constant help
suggest that at least some cultural knowledge and encouragement. We thank Mr. Jorge
about native plants is still maintained, and we Aisama for his help during the interviews; A.
speculate that other Emberá groups might Perdomo, Centro Indigenísta de Florencia,
use the same or closely related plant species. and P. Herlihy, University of Kansas, for
Cultural knowledge about native plants could providing bibliographic references; A.
have been maintained either by the frequent Villegas, K. Huntzinger, N. Baldi, D. Fautin,
contact with those members of the same group J. Cole, K. Vanden Heuvel, M. Suzuki, and
that reside on reservations or by contact with two anonymous reviewers for comments
the local indigenous tribes, the Koreguajes and suggestions that improved this note.
and Uitotos. Undoubtedly, research on this The Universidad de la Amazonía provided
is needed. financial support for GF, ET, and MAC. The
University of Kansas (KU), Undergraduate
The suggestion that other Emberá groups Program in Biology, Department of Ecology
might use the same or closely related plant and Evolutionary Biology, KU General
species in handicrafts is strengthened by the Research Fund and US-Israel Binational
fact that several species of the legume genus Science Foundation grant 2000-259 (to D.
Erythrina (Fabaceae), as well as the palm Smith & Y. Lubin) provided financial support
Bactris gasipaes, have wide distributions in for VG through teaching assistantships and
the tropics of the Americas and are similarly laboratory facilities.
used by several indigenous populations
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Seeds used in handicrafts